#455: Lobsters can live up to 50 years.
I am, well, disappointed. For so long, I have touted my offhand knowledge about how lobsters have no shortage of a particular enzyme called telomerase, which causes them to not “age” in the style that most other animals do. Telomerase is an enzyme that lengthens the segments of DNA called telomeres, whose degradation is a well-known cause for many diseases, particularly cancer. In easier terms, telomerase is a spell-checker for your DNA that tries to keep up with your atrocious genetic grammar as you grow older. However, as one ages, eventually the editorial staff decides that this work isn’t worth the pay and starts quitting one by one. Welcome to old age and the eventual transformation into a delicate human card tower in the wind.
Lobsters pay their editors better. There is little to no decrease in telomerase present in lobsters as they grow older. So, this means they don’t reap all the hinderances of old age, right? Well, yes and no. While you won’t be seeing a chemo clinic for lobsters any time soon, they still have their downfalls. Most lobsters die from complications during molting, which is the process of shedding its previous shell as it grows into a new one. This process takes up tons of energy for lobsters, and the energy required grows as they grow. It’s like starting with a marathon on your 26th birthday, then adding a mile every birthday.
At some point, you would die from exhaustion, just as lobsters die from exhaustive molting. Now, these critters have a nice workaround to avoid molting death: don’t molt. However, this just leads to the shells being more prone to damage, infection, and eventual death. Generally, though males can live on average 30 years and females 50 years before the molting issues catch up to them.
Now that we know lobsters aren’t immortal, what is?
Meet Turritopsis dohrnii, otherwise known as the immortal jellyfish. Most jellyfish live only a few months at best. This one found a strange workaround. The three main stages of the jellyfish lifecycle are larva, polyp, and medusa. Most of us are familiar with the medusa stage, since it is generally the largest and fanciest looking. Turritopsis dohrnii can literally cycle its stages in a single life.
When things are starting to look bad, such as conditions of starvation of inhospitable environment, the medusa can revert back to polyp and start over again when better conditions arise. Sometimes they revert back just for the hell of it. It’s the non-metaphorical born-again Christian of the sea. In human terms, it’s like realizing you made a serious of fuck-ups in your career and adult life, so you decide to hit reset and go back to the first day of high school, then you fuck up again and keep trying to fix it.
This jellyfish’s process effectively can cause it do skip death. As great as this sounds, consider this: this jellyfish will never die a natural, peaceful death. There is no slow fade into the abyss as an old jellyfish on its little jellyfish rocking chair surrounded by its polyp children and larva grandchildren. It pretty much has to get eaten or starve before it can slide back into an early stage. So, score one for every other animal.